Husband-and-wife design team pair talent with enthusiasm
New Traders: Mortar & More
Rob Tracey and Liz Dolan of Mortar & More: “A place can be in rag order and we will transform it.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The entrance hallway in 50 Upper Mount Street is high, wide, bright and very Georgian Dublin. A wall hanging inside the door, in which No 50 is a bright blue miniature of the nearby Pepper Canister amid rows of brown miniatures, is very Mortar & More.
Young and growing, coolly, cheerfully and effectively creative, Mortar & More has been a lively part of the interior architecture and design world since mid-2014. Creative director Liz Dolan says they were “really lucky with initial contracts. We got a couple of great clients early on [AIB and American firm Udemy] and that set us in the right direction.”
A chat with Liz and her husband, Rob Tracey (they set up the company together), along with a look at their work, suggests there is a lot more than luck involved. The couple are enthusiastic and talented, love what they do, work hard, set themselves standards and warmly engage with life. It’s a healthy mix, and successful. Mortar & More has a staff of seven, an impressive portfolio and projects in the offing.
“We’re really conscious of providing a full service,” Dolan says, “understanding fully what the client is looking for and what exactly they want.”
They met “through the industry”: Dolan studied interior architecture and furniture design at DIT Mountjoy Square; Tracey worked in an interiors store in South Great George’s Street. When Dolan, working as a sole trader, began storing her stock in his storeroom, one thing led to another and, by the end of a warm summer, they were a couple.
“In 2012 we started thinking about setting up a business together,” Dolan says. “In July 2014 we got married, postponed our honeymoon and set up the company. It was a long time coming; we’d been together 10 years by then.”
The wedding, in the sun at Inish Beg, Baltimore, west Cork, was “idyllic”, involved “dragging everyone we know down there. Once it was over we came back and hit the ground running. By September we were hunkering down with some other creatives in Portobello. Three days before Christmas we signed the lease for here. Somewhere in between Rob came up with the name Mortar & More.”
They laugh at the memory of this. Between them they were “lucky with contacts”. Once they began phoning around they found people “amazing. If they didn’t have work they pointed us in the right direction.”
Their first big project was for the AIB Bankcentre on Serpentine Avenue in Dublin 4, where Mortar & More was the design/project leader on the Link Gallery, a walkway linking the main entrance to the atrium. It’s now a breakout space where clients and coworkers meet. After that came Udemy, and online company and incubator for other American companies.
“We worked with them when they first set up in the IFSC’s Dogpatch, and then when they moved on to Burlington Road,” Dolan says. “They had short-term leases, so everything had to be loose and movable, which is challenging and great.”
Mortar & More does a limited amount of residential design work; just a couple of listed or preservation properties per year. “It’s very personal and it’s hard work but so satisfactory,” she says. “A place can be in rag order and we’ll transform it. The owners’ future memories are in the house, so we make their ideas work in the overall scheme. You have to be intuitive about what owners like, come up with a combination of timeless design and what they want. It takes a lifetime to live in and know a house – we set down a good foundation so that they can add their own character over time.”
According to Tracey, commercial work is different in that “it’s more brass tacks. Also, there’s a huge difference between personal money and capital expenditure. The main difference is that residential is somebody’s home and so is very intimate.”
His partner agrees. “You’re also trying to predict what people will want in design. Some clients come with guidelines, some want things to be really different, more exciting and out there.”
A commercial project they enjoyed was with Featherblade, a restaurant on Dawson Street. “It was when they were setting up and had a definite vision of what they were offering patrons. It was all about a very limited menu so we went for birch ply and black with benches styled like the ones in Stephen’s Green. They were happy and we were happy!”
These days they’re kept busy with both commercial and residential. They’ve just finished working on a house in Kenilworth Square. “It had been offices so we restored it to a family home.” They recently finished work on a Clyde Road Georgian for Engineers Ireland. “It had to be stripped back to the Georgian original features, after which we struck a contrast between Georgian and modern design.”
They work all over the country and intend to continue that way, agreeing they’d like to work on more hospitality and retail ventures. They’re pretty occupied these days, as well, with 10-month-old daughter Zoe. Her mother says “she’s so much fun. She sleeps, eats, is happy, makes our lives so easy.”
Her father adds that Zoe is “very good-humoured, relaxed”. Quite like her parents, really.